How to Know If Youre In a Relationship with a Covert Narcissist

“A covert narcissist has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but does not display a sense of self-importance often associated with the condition. They may deal with insecurity and low self-esteem.“~ Help Line

9+ years into a relationship with a man who kept showing me who he was and me pretending that somehow, someway, things could change — recently blew up in my face. 

Why did I stay so long?

Was it a result of my high tolerance for pain and suffering that kept me treading water in this toxic relationship? Was it my need to rescue? Or was it something deeper?

To my dismay and relief, I discovered a condition called Covert Narcissism. This condition became the driving force behind our dysfunctional relationship.

So, if you’re willing, jump in with me to see how I got there!

My Story with a Covert Narcissist

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As most relationships begin, I experienced the honeymoon phase that lasted maybe a year if my memory serves me right. 

And that is what I replayed in my mind as the reason and justification to put up with all of the insanity that went on for years — including co-dependency, people-pleasing, covert narcissism, passive aggressive behaviour and low self-esteem.

I became entrenched in a fantasy that wouldn’t allow me to see the ugly truth — until years later.

I told myself that this man had all the potential in the world to treat me how I deserved to be treated because he did it so well in the first year we started dating.

How to Know If You’re In a Relationship with a Covert Narcissist

Regrettably, that was not the person that showed up for the remainder of our relationship.

Sure I had glimpses of those perfect moments when we first met, but they were fleeting at best.

And me being the perpetual optimist, thought it would be a good idea to hold on to hope and ignore the reality right in front of me.

I’ll be honest; I’d never experienced love from a partner in the way he loved me those first few months. It was so intoxicating. 

And I used it as my excuse to dismiss any of his shortcomings — not my best choice

So we limped along, including a breakup at one point — and still, I stayed. 

Adding insult to injury, we decided to move in together and share a mortgage on a house. And did I mention that I was raising my 14-year-old daughter when we met? That was an interesting chapter of my life that deserves another article.

As we spent another 5+ years living together, I was embroiled in the role of rescuer. Doing whatever I could to rescue him from himself and his roller coaster of ups and downs that ebbed and flowed based on his self-esteem and my need as well as his — to people-please.

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A process that almost destroyed my health and well-being. As years went by I had a hard time mustering the energy to take better care of myself because I felt like I was failing this man if I wasn’t showing up for him. Yes, my self-worth was tied to how well I could rescue him, which set up the perfect co-dependent relationship.

The Not So Obvious Underlying Truth about

In that last year of our relationship, I was recommended a book called Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. This book helped me understand the root of imbalances in our relationship in a way that made it clear to me. 

I credit my ex-partner for willing to read the book with me and take the in-depth online quiz that pointed to some real tell-tale signs — explaining precisely why our relationship didn’t work.

This quiz helped me discover that my ex is a narcissist — but not just any narcissist, a covert narcissist. 

At first, it didn’t make sense because the only type of narcissist I’m familiar with is a grandiose narcissist. I had to do my research here, which helped me uncover two types of narcissists — grandiose and covert. 

Grandiose narcissists you can see coming a mile away because they have no problem parading their superiority or pretentiousness. They are a legend in their minds and they always make life about them.  A reality putting them at center stage where everyone must bow to their whims.

The covert narcissist is the opposite of grandiose —making them more tricky to spot.  Due to their unstable self-esteem, they are constantly looking for outside validation of their skills and talents, motivating them to be the best people pleasers on the planet. 

And what the outside world sees is this great person that bends over backward for them. However, living up close and personal with a covert narcissist is another story. 

The moodiness, rage, and dismal look on life that they engage in starts to tear down and destroy the relationship.

And it’s the covert narcissist that fits my ex to a T. 

To my surprise, he looked it up online and agreed to about 60% of the traits identifying this type of narcissist — in a matter-of-fact way.  

From here, our relationship started to unravel fast. 

I just had to learn more and was led to a book called The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist by Debbie Mirza.  In her book, I spent most of my time gasping in amazement at the characteristics that described the experiences I had in my relationship. And I was shocked to find out that these so-called traits were standard for a covert narcissist.

I decided to step out and grab some non-conventional help. Support that helped me find the courage within myself to say enough is enough and ditch the idea that this man could or would ever change.

I am in full healing mode now. I sold the townhome we had together and packed up my belongings to start over in a new home with my two dogs in the mountains. 

And today is a good day because I’m beginning to recognize that I am OK! 

Life is here to meet me with the more I’ve always known was possible.


Kris Freeman

Kris loves to write about the opportunities contained in confusion.  Paying particular attention to the lessons contained in the messiness of life. Using the insanity of our lives as chance to elevate our consciousness and love ourselves through it! You can learn more about her at

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